Council members briefed on status of closed beach parks

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Kolekole Beach Park was closed in April 2017 after high amounts of lead were found in the soil.

One long-closed beach park on the Hamakua coast could reopen by March, while another will remain closed indefinitely.

Kolekole and Hakalau beach parks have been closed since 2017 after soil at both parks was discovered to have dangerous levels of lead contamination.

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However, Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Deputy Director James Komata said Tuesday that Kolekole is on track to be reopened temporarily in March, while Hakalau is too contaminated to reopen in the near future.

Komata, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, said that most of the lead contamination in Kolekole is concentrated within specific areas, which will be fenced off to allow people to return to the park without exposing themselves to excessive lead.

“We believe that Kolekole is generally usable for park purposes,” Komata said. “We’re in the process of installing fences and fabricating signs warning people to wash their hands, wipe their feet, don’t plant stakes in the dirt.”

Although Kolekole will reopen soon, Komata said it likely will close again by the end of the year, as Parks and Recreation make significant renovations to the park to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. During those renovations — which Komata said could begin around October — the state Department of Transportation also will begin soil remediation work to remove the lead-contaminated soil from the park.

The primary source of the lead contamination in both parks is believed to be lead-based paint that was used on the Highway 19 bridges spanning over both parks. The paint has since been removed from both bridges, but because the lingering contamination originated from DOT infrastructure, it remains the responsibility of DOT to correct the problem.

But while Kolekole’s contamination is fixable, the same cannot be said of Hakalau. Komata said the highly contaminated soil at Hakalau is not confined to specific areas, and further tests are necessary to determine the full extent of the contamination before any date for reopening the park can be considered.

“Even if we were to try to reopen the park, I think the state would probably disallow it,” Komata said.

Komata’s diagnosis of Hakalau elicited murmurs from several Hamakua Coast residents, who had requested that the county try to reopen the parks as soon as possible.

“These parks are the treasures of the Hamakua Coast,” said resident Mark Koppel.

“We don’t have enough good access to the beach around those parts; there’s all these fancy houses in the way. The tourists come to these parks sometimes, and that’s fine, but the people who live there love them, too.”

Fellow resident Thomas Gehweiler agreed, criticizing the county for continually pushing back the reopenings of the parks.

He also drew comparisons between the lead contamination at the parks and a study by the state departments of Health and Education that found high lead levels at 18 East Hawaii schools last year.

Those schools have remained open since that study, while the parks have remained closed since 2017.

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“If kids can go to schools with lead contamination, I should be able to go to the beach,” Gehweiler said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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